China reprimands 27 officials for ‘tragically ugly’ illustrations in school textbook

In May this year, a nearly decade-old Chinese textbook went viral following outcry over its ostensibly terrible illustrations. Although the elementary math textbook has been in circulation for some time, it suddenly came under fire from the Department of Education, demanding that the public publisher edit the images, which were condemned as “tragically ugly” and inappropriate by social media users. .

Photos of the images, which have been viewed some four billion times on Chinese social media and have prompted millions of comments, have been seen as ugly at best and socially divisive at worst. The outcry sparked an investigation by the Department for Education, which culminated last week in the sanctioning of 27 officials held responsible for the controversial images.

“The general style of the illustrations does not conform to the aesthetic tastes of the public,” said a press release from the ministry, quoted in translation by Newsweek. “Some of the characters depicted are ugly, show poor spirit and style, and do not reflect a positive image of our country’s children.”

Beyond the depiction of supposedly ugly children with bad attitudes, the investigation looked at accusations of inappropriate content, including boys grabbing girls by the chest or pulling up their skirts, a Dutch doubles game that features a girl with a skirt pulled up revealing her underwear, a boy with a suggestive bulge in his pants, and another with an apparent tattoo on his leg. Some reviewers have offered a more conspiratorial basis for the bad illustrations, pointing to an inverted Chinese flag, and some depictions of children’s clothing in the colors of the American flag, citing the books as having “evil intentions”, according to the What’s on website. Weibo.

In a response that was not particularly timely, given the nearly decade-long span of these books in elementary schools across the country – from Shandong province in the northeast to Yunnan in the south – Chinese authorities finally weighed in on the matter. Education authorities said 27 people, including the president of the publishing house, had “neglected their duties and responsibilities”, in a statement issued on August 22. permanent and future employment. The editor and head of the math department’s editorial office were also demerited and fired, and the illustrators and designers were “treated accordingly”, unspecified.

The ministry promised to redouble its efforts on educational materials, to ensure that they would “always adhere to the right policy direction and values ​​orientation”. And while a society angry at bad clipart might seem slightly ridiculous, it’s worth remembering that the American education system is deeply laden with questions about what constitutes an appropriate curriculum.

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